Elements of mystery have always been represented in literature, but the detective story didn't arrive on the scene until the mid 1800's. Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in 1841, was the first. The Murder's main character, C. Auguste Dupin, was a brilliant detective who relied on superior deductive powers to solve the crime. He and his unnamed narrator companion solved this and two other mysteries.
Later in the 19th century Sir Arthur Conan Doyle expanded on Poe's new concept in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Many think that Doyle patterned Holmes and Watson after Dupin and his friend. The Sherlock Holmes stories were wildly popular in England, and after Conan Doyle, the British continued to dominate the detective genre with other detectives who depended on keen observation and deductive logic to solve crimes. These detectives most commonly applied their brilliance to crimes in quaint country houses outside small idyllic villages.
Then, in the 1930's and 1940's American writers added a grittier urban element to the detective genre -- the hardboiled detective. As opposed to the typical British detective, the hardboiled detective was generally a cynical loner with a strong sense of justice that wasn't necessarily limited to that provided by the court system. Instead of country houses, these detectives were more likely to be found in shady all-night bars or on the mean streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City.
Dashiell Hammett introduced the new genre, and Sam Spade, in 1930 in his novel The Maltese Falcon. A few years later Raymond Chandler came along and perfected the type, with his detective, Philip Marlowe. Chandler introduced Marlowe in his first novel, The Big Sleep, and Philip Marlowe continued to solve crimes in six subsequent Chandler novels. Chandler had previously published a number of short stories featuring other detectives; however, Marlowe proved so popular that when the stories were later republished the author often switched the detectives to Philip Marlowe.
Chandler's style was unique. His sparse style was full of wonderfully sharp similies and rich descriptive narration. Here's an example from The Little Sister:
"I put the duster away folded with the dust in it, leaned back and just sat, not smoking, not even thinking. I was a blank man. I had no face, no meaning, no personality, hardly a name. I didn't want to eat. I didn't even want a drink. I was the page from yesterday's calendar crumpled at the bottom of the waste basket."
And another from The High Window:
"Then he picked the glass up and tasted it and sighed again and shook his head sideways with a half smile; the way a man does when you give him a drink and he needs it very badly and it is just right and the first swallow is like a peek into a cleaner, sunnier, brighter world."
Marlowe was a more complex character than some of his hard boiled brethren. Sure he could handle a gun and take a beating. But, he was more than just a tough guy, he had gone to college, could play chess, and appreciated classical music. He also had his own strong ethical standards and turned down jobs that didn't measure up to those standards.
By the late 1940's Marlowe had moved to the big screen, with Marlowe played by Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum, and Humphrey Bogart. One of those movies, Murder My Sweet, was responsible for Marlowe's first appearance on radio when it was presented on Lux Radio Theatre on June 11, 1945 starring Dick Powell and Clair Trevor.
In April, 1947 the New York Times announced that the summer replacement for Bob Hope would be a new adventure-mystery series, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Airing on NBC at 10:00 p.m. on June 17th, the show starred Van Heflin with a script by Milton Geiger based on the stories of Raymond Chandler. Most radio shows had live audiences in the studio. The Philip Marlowe producers decided against the common practice because they thought audiences might detract from the show. However 19 of Los Angeles' top detectives were in the studio during the airing of the first show.
No one knows what the detectives thought of the production, but according to the New York Times review, Van Heflin did well but struggled with an awkward script. The reviewer thought the show depended too much on straight narration at dramatic moments instead of action or dialog. "Leaving ones play in the wings, as they say on Broadway, always makes for disconcerting theatre, and this was painfully true in the case of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe."
Raymond Chandler wasn't enthralled by the show either. In a letter to Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, Mr. Chandler said "It was thoroughly flat."
This initial run of Philip Marlowe went from June 17 to September 19, 1947, with Pepsodent as the sponsor. The announcer was Wendell Niles, music was by Lyn Murray, and the producer was Jim Fonda. After the summer run ended, NBC dropped the show. As far as we know, only four episodes of this series have survived.
The character of Philip Marlowe was too good to stay off stage for long though. A year later CBS decided to take a chance on reviving the show. Norman Macdonnell was producer/director; Gene Levitt, Robert Mitchell, Mel Dinelli, and Kathleen Hite wrote the scripts; and Richard Aurandt was responsible for the music. CBS cast Gerald Mohr to star as Philip Marlowe, with Roy Rowan as announcer. Philip Marlowe, being a loner, was really the only regular character, but throughout the three years the series ran a long string of high-quality supporting Hollywood actors appeared on the show. Performing alongside Mohr at various times were Jeff Corey, Howard McNear, Parley Baer, Lawrence Dobkin, Virginia Gregg, Gloria Blondell, and Lou Krugman. The CBS production ran from September 26, 1948 to September 29, 1950 with an additional short summer run from July 7 to September 15, 1951.
This revival of Philip Marlowe was more favorably received, probably because of a combination of writing and acting. No one could duplicate the writing of Raymond Chandler, but this group of writers was very good. While Chandler's distinctive similes were largely lacking, the strong dry, sarcastic narration was there, and the way Gerald Mohr delivered the lines had a way of making you forget that they weren't written by Chandler. Mr. Mohr seemed born for the part of the cynical detective. His voice and timing were perfect for the character. In a letter to Gene Levitt, one of the show's writers, Raymond Chandler commented that a voice like Gerald Mohr's at least packed personality; a decided an improvement over his opinion of the original show. By 1949 the show had the largest audience in radio.
CBS capitalized on the popularity of Philip Marlowe to introduce a look-alike show a few months later, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. During the period both shows were broadcast, Johnny Dollar played second fiddle to the popular Philip Marlowe. Even after Marlowe went off the air in 1951, Dollar remained an average detective show. That was to end Oct 3, 1955 when Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar changed everything; the writers, the format to 15 minutes and the lead actor. The new 15 minute episodes staring Bob Bailey dominated detective/mystery drama from then until its last broadcast, September 30, 1962. That date and that broadcast are generally considered as the last of the radio drama broadcasts.
Philip Marlowe continued to find limited success in the movies and television in America and England after his radio career ended. Several quality presentations of Chandler's character were produced by the BBC in the 1990's. But the death of Chandler's wife pulled him into severe depression and put an end any effective writing. His last unfinished book, Poodle Springs, was finished by Robert B. Parker, a good friend who tried to remain faithful to the Chandler style. Unfortunately, the critics did not agree.
Philip Marlowe, the gritty, no nonsense American detective lived and vanished from the quill of a writer raised in Europe. He will remain a classic buried in the modern world of fighting crime with technology.
Information for this description came from John Dunning's On the Air, The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, Wikipedia, New York Times (April 27, 1947 and June 22, 1947), Fresno Bee (July 8, 1947) and thrillingdetective.com.
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February 20, 2021 Subject:
The actress who played Joan sounds like a young Bryna Raeburn.
November 2, 2018 Subject:
One of my favorite episodes is Rushton (or is it Ruston?) Hickory—I felt like I was in a movie, as Phil and the main female character, Joan, had such good chemistry. Who is the actress that plays Joan? She sounds so familiar, but I can't place it.
August 26, 2017 Subject:
Mohr in King in Yellow
A must listen - Gerald Mohr as King in "King in Yellow" with Van Heflin as Marlowe. A recurring OTR character Parley Bear played the 2nd Mayor on TV's Andy Griffith - mayor Roy Stoner.
Reviewer:Man from Arles
August 29, 2013 Subject:
Simply the best!
Incomparable radio. It holds up in sublime fashion. And yes, Mohr is (was?) head and shoulders above Van Heflin. I am so saddened to have reached the end of the series. I dragged them out as long as possible, in excruciating delight.
February 9, 2013 Subject:
I'll agree that this is the best episode of the series (note: "Red Wind," not "The Red Wind"), based on what I think is the best Marlowe story. The original is a little too involved to include all the subplots, but what comes through here was a cut above the rest of the shows. "Johnny Dalmas," incidentally, is something of an in-joke. Chandler used the name for his detective a time or two before settling on Marlowe. If you only read one of his stories, read this one.
There are also some good Marlowe tales — based on the movies, which are based on the novels — in the Lux Radio Theatre, including THE LADY IN THE LAKE and MURDER, MY SWEET (based on _Farewell, My Lovely_). PEARLS ARE A NUISANCE is another Chandler short story, not originally about Marlowe, but easy enough to change. THE KING IN YELLOW and TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS are also short stories. WHO SHOT WALDO is also actually RED WIND under another title. The movie DOUBLE INDEMNITY was scripted by Chandler, but it's hard to say without checking how much of his work stayed in the Lux version.
September 6, 2012 Subject:
SO LONG KAESONG
#94 saturday july 7th 1951 "seaside sabbatical" the cbs summer season run of Philip Marlowe opens with "we delay the start of our scheduled program we have delayed the start of our scheduled program to bring you a bulletin from cbs news 2 helicopters carrying the United Nations cease-fire team left for Kaesong shortly before 9 o'clock Korean time. Communist officers are already in Kaesong to participate in the preliminary cease-fire talks. This bulletin has come to you from cbs news" we now resume our scheduled program. MOST SATURDAYS AT THIS TIME WE SPEND AN EXCITING HALF HOUR OF ADVENTURE&ACTION WITH AMERICA'S PUBLIC HERO NUMBER ONE HOPALONG CASSIDY WELL EVEN 2-FISTED COWBOYS TAKE SUMMER VACATIONS WHEN THEY CAN & HOPPY IS NO EXCEPTION HOPPY&TOPPER WILL BE BACK WITH US RIDING THE CBS AIR-TRAILS AGAIN 11 WEEKS FROM TONIGHT SEPTEMBER 22d get this & get it straight crime is a suckers road & those who travel it wind up in the gutter the prison or the grave there's no other end but they never learn (organ sting) from the pen of raymond chandler outstanding author of crime fiction comes his most famous character in THE ADVENTURES OF PHILIP MARLOWE"
Sadly those cease-fire talks which got under way tuesday the 10th of july 1951 took 2 tragic years before the final armistice agreement was finally signed on July 27th 1953. What a wonderful world it would be had that peace been signed as quickly as Philip Marlowe signed off forever at the end of "The Sound & the Unsound" saturday September 15th 1951 "Now here again is the star of our show gerald mohr: Thanks Roy, ladies&gentlemen boys&girls tonight's broadcast concludes our current series of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, I understand it won't be very long before we meet again so until we do we won't say goodbye just so long see ya soon"
We never did see him again but thanks to archive.org these poignant moments when reel2reel stories collide with real history play back forever and ever in these Theatres of the Mind.
April 15, 2012 Subject:
Masterful Radio Entertainment
It would be difficult to overstate how well written and performed these stories are. I am on my second run through these programs, and I keep discovering new catchy phrases, and very intelligent word play.
The plots of the stories are secondary to the performance, dialogue and atmosphere of the productions.
Gerald Mohr is fantastic as Philip Marlowe, giving the right combination of strength, intellect, humor, and humanity to the classic noir detective.
And OTRR has done miracles with these old recordings. A few are still raw, but most are very clear and sound wonderful.
My highest recommendation.
July 31, 2011 Subject:
Philip Marlowe source for "Nick Danger"
I grew up listening to The Firesign Theater. The hard-boiled detective Nick Danger was one of their stock characters. At last, I have had a chance to listen to the original archetype Philip Marlowe and to discover what a loving parody had been created. "The Iron Coffin" can be recognized as the starting point for Nick Danger's "Cut 'em Off at the Past". It's a strange experience to hear the parody first and then hear the original. Gerald Mohr is SO much better than Van Hefflin. I can almost hear Marlowe saying, "Take THAT, modern radio audience!"
Because of the very dramatic use of dynamic range, I recommend against trying to listen to these in an automobile. When Marlowe whispers to himself while crouched in the dark with his gun in his hand, you won't be able to understand what he is saying.
July 6, 2011 Subject:
Straight talking, sure footed and energetic with a terrific lead performance from Gerald Mohr. Essential for insomniacs everywhere.
June 22, 2011 Subject:
"There was a rough desert wind blowing into Los Angeles that evening. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anna winds that comes down out of the mountain passes...On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight, and meek little housewives finger the edge of a carving knife and study their husband's necks. Anything can happen when the Santa Anna blows in from the desert.
Yowza!! Maybe the best episode of the series, and a fine example of noir writing.
January 29, 2011 Subject:
This is one of the best-written of all radio crime dramas. If I close my eyes, I can see these stories playing in a smokey movie theatre sixty years ago. Really a pleasure to go through them night after night - I'm on my second go-through now.
Note: Shows 1,2, and 5 are all the same.
May 14, 2010 Subject:
Get This and Get it Straight
Philip Marlowe may be the best of the best when it came to radio detective shows, particularly the Gerald Mohr version. (The Van Heflin episodes certainly don't diminish the canon.)
Mohr brings Marlowe to life and the tough, but decent hardboiled private eye. More relatable than Spade, Chandler's creation shines. Listening to Mohr's Marlowe, you never have any doubt that he's not only a tough man, but a good one. Simply the best.
And let me add that OTRR has done an admirable job on the sound quality in this set. They are things of beauty to listen to.
April 4, 2010 Subject:
Gerald Mohr Excellent As "Philip Marlowe"
This is a radio detective series not to be missed. Gerald Mohr has an excellent voice and delivery as detective "Philip Marlowe." The story lines are varied and interesting, but it is Gerald Mohr who dominates the program, bringing it to a high level of perfection.
January 23, 2008 Subject:
The story The Lonesome Reunion was later done as a espode on the old TV show Maverick